#ASCO22: The Evolution of the New Normal

#ASCO22: The Evolution of the New Normal

Linda R. Duska, MD, MPH

May 12, 2022
As I’m planning my ASCO22 experience, I find myself with mixed feelings. I’ve been eager for the return of an in-person meeting, but it turns out virtual meetings have a lot of positive attributes. If I were to make a pro/con list, the pro-virtual-meetings side would look something like this:
  • The pandemic has really forced us to think about work-life balance and how we allocate the precious resource that is our time. Attending virtually equals less time traveling—I’m not spending time flying to Chicago, taking a cab from the airport to the hotel, getting on a bus to the meeting venue, etc. Instead, I can spend that time on pressing work tasks, personal life plans, exercise—all the things that usually get put on the back burner during in-person conferences. 
  • More control and flexibility with our time also allows for more diversity in meeting participation. A virtual option makes the meeting more accessible to people with childcare or elder care responsibilities, people who can’t travel, and people who would otherwise be covering clinic while their colleagues are attending in person, to name just a few scenarios. 
  • Participating online means I can minimize distractions (like chatting with the person sitting next to me) and really maximize my time with the meeting content and the exciting science. The online experience makes it easy to jump between multiple sessions without running from one end of McCormick Place to the other. I can even eat a healthy meal at my desk while I watch a presentation—one that I didn’t have to wait in line to order. 
  • I don’t need to buy new clothes or wear uncomfortable shoes!
But the physical distancing of the past 2 years has also reinforced how valuable and enjoyable it is to be with other people, face to face. In my pro/con list, the pro-attending-in-person side would include:
  • Bumping into colleagues in the hallways and having spontaneous conversations that result in later collaborations. A little luck and serendipity have sparked a lot of meaningful projects that would otherwise never have happened. For me, that’s the real “lightning in a bottle” experience that can’t be replicated in a digital environment.
  • Along similar lines, the ability to catch up with a speaker after a talk to ask a question in private or with a small group is a key moment at an in-person conference. The faculty at the ASCO Annual Meeting are some of the best and brightest minds in our field, and they tend to be so generous with their time while onsite. 
  • Catching up with people I wouldn’t think to call or email otherwise. Those cups of coffee with old friends from residency or reminiscing with former colleagues about past jobs are replenishing in a way that Zoom happy hours just can’t match.
  • Visiting Chicago, because I love Chicago. I’ve missed travel (even if I haven’t missed the time spent on planes, cabs, and buses). If there was a point during the pandemic when you felt like the walls of your clinic or your home office were closing in on you, a walk along Lake Michigan or through the Art Institute, followed by an excellent dinner, is the best medicine.  
Since ASCO22 will be offered as a hybrid meeting, with both an in-person and a virtual experience, we get the best of both worlds—and as our new normal evolves, I think keeping the flexibility of both options is going to be our best bet.
 

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